Public order breaches “will not be tolerated”, a senior garda warned as the reopening of outdoor dining on Monday threatens to be overshadowed by further street disturbances in the capital.
As thousands of restaurants and pubs across the country open for outdoor service under the latest easing of Covid restrictions, Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys joined senior gardaí in defending how the disturbances in Dublin over the weekend were policed.
Garda members used shields and batons amid clashes that resulted in more than 35 arrests over three nights.
Assistant Garda Commissioner Anne Marie Cagney said three gardaí had been injured over the course of Friday and Saturday night as they attempted to disperse crowds and they had the right to protect themselves.
She blamed the violence on a cohort of “like-minded young individuals, predominately teenagers, who are coming into the city and causing trouble”.
“This is unacceptable behaviour,” she added. “We have had missiles thrown at gardaí, we have communities living in fear. This will not be tolerated.
“While none of us want to see situations where An Garda Síochána deploys the Public Order Unit, they must do so on occasion to protect the public and their colleagues,” she said.
Ms Humphreys said the vast majority of people were enjoying themselves responsibly outdoors and “we cannot let the actions of a tiny minority intent on causing trouble overshadow that”.
She said enforcement remained “a last resort” when policing the pandemic with the gardaí response based on the “Four Es” of engage, explain, encourage and enforce.
“An Garda Síochána, as they have been doing, will continue to engage with local authorities, businesses and community groups to ensure that the hospitality sector can reopen safely and stay open safely,” Ms Humphreys said.
There were 19 people arrested for public order offences in Dublin on Saturday night and 14 were arrested on Friday night. The Irish Times witnessed three separate arrests on Sunday night including that of a man who threw paint at a photographer.
Bottles were thrown at gardaí at different times on all three nights.
By 8pm on Sunday South William Street had been completely cleared and closed off by public order units. A staff member from one of the bars selling drinks said they had been asked to close by gardaí but a Garda spokesman said “at no stage this evening have members of An Garda Síochána directed licenses premises to close”.
Monday sees the reopening of restaurants, cafes and bars for outdoor dining.
Gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres can reopen for individual training only, while non-professional outdoor sports matches can take place once again.
Cinemas and theatres are also allowed to reopen.
The Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) said it expected about half of pubs to reopen for outdoor trading on Monday. This should mean about 4,000 venues across the country, with 25,000 staff returning to work, it said.
Describing Monday as “a big day” for the sector, VFI chief executive Padraig Cribben said: “For the vast majority of publicans, outdoor service will keep them ticking over until indoor trading resumes on July 5th...
“To get pubs back open will be a great sign the country is returning to normal.”
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan was one of a number of politicians who called for greater co-ordination between Dublin City Council and other parties to manage outdoor socialising.
“What I think the council needs to do is have event-control teams that will work with the guards and work with local businesses, so we manage this properly, so we de-escalate it and make sure we do have an outdoor summer,” Mr Ryan said.
The Minister said “we have done well as a country and as a city” in creating safe social spaces outdoors and “we don’t want to lose that”.
There needs to be a “broader strategic change” in how the city centre is managed. This would involve “much more public spaces, much more pedestrian areas and outdoor areas”, the Minister said.